Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park

An ethereally beautiful landscape of cascading waterfalls, glittering lakes and towering granite peaks, Fiordland is one of the top nature destinations in New Zealand, if not the world. The deep fjords and steep mountain walls have been carved by glaciers over thousands of years. 

This national park is a bucket list destination for hikers, as it is home to three of the “Great Walks” – the Milford Track, Kepler and Routeburn. This World Heritage Site also includes Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound. If you’re not up for one of the bigger hikes, there are plenty of shorter day walks perfect for viewing the local flora and fauna.

People call this one the world’s last great wilderness environments. It’s so lush, remote, and untouched by man, you’ll feel like you’re about to walk with the dinosaurs.

Where is Milford Sound?

Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park Location Map

Fiordland & Lord of the Rings

If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, you’ll recognize a lot of the scenery in Fiordland National Park from the epic Peter Jackson film adaptation of Tolkien’s books. For example, Snowdown Forest is the location of Fangorn Forest, where the Ents live and Aragorn tracks the trail of the hobbits.

Also, if you visit Kepler Mire (near Te Anau) you can see the filming location for the scene where Frodo, Sam and Gollum are travelling through the Dead Marshes on their way to Mordor.

Milford Sound

A photographers’ dream – Milford Sound is one of the most visually spectacular natural wonders in New Zealand – if not the world. This deep fjord with steep sides and permanent waterfalls was carved by glaciation over millions of years.

The best way to experience it is to travel the Milford road by coach, take a small boat cruise on Milford Sound and then return to Queenstown by scenic flight. You’ll admire the stunning scenery along Milford Road and then cruise through the fjord to see the steep, dramatic rock faces close up. The scenic flight is not only amazing also helps avoid the 4 hour drive back to Queenstown.

The Milford Track

One of the most famous hikes in the region, the Milford Track is a 5 day, 4-night journey that covers 54km (33.5 miles). It can only be hiked from November to April and it’s considered “moderate” in difficulty. You’ll retrace the steps of early explorers as they found their way through the lakes and mountain peaks.

For more information on the Milford Track, visit the Department of Conservation website.

The Routeburn Track

Along with the Milford Track, this is one of the “Great Walks” in New Zealand. This trail links Fiordland National Park with Mount Aspiring National Park.

It’s a chance to hike through some of New Zealand’s most stunning alpine scenery on a 3 day, 2 night journey that covers 32 km (20.1 miles). Open from November to April, this trail is rated as “moderate” difficulty.

To learn more about the Routeburn Track, visit the Department of Conservation website. Read our blog about our travels here as well!

Top 5 Short Day Walks & Hikes in Fiordland

  • Lake Gunn Nature Walk: If you have a limited time to hike, or you are looking for an easy option, this walk only takes 45 minutes and is a flat track. It takes you through mossy forest and features helpful information panels that describe the local flora and fauna. Keep your eye out for native birds.
  • Milford Foreshore Walk: Here’s another short but very rewarding hike. It’s an easy flat stroll along the boardwalk before Milford Sound. You’ll learn about the Sound from the information panels, as well as the local flora and fauna.
  • Lake Marian Walk: This three-hour return journey begins from the carpark on Hollyford Road and will take you to Lake Marian, an alpine lake that is extremely photogenic. It’s surrounded by mountains, which are reflected in its mirror-like surface. The track can be steep and muddy in parts, so wear sturdy shoes!
  • Gertrude Saddle: A fantastic day trip from Te Anau, Gertrude Saddle is a 4-6 hour trek through spectacular alpine terrain. You’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Milford Sound from the summit after you scramble up this steep climb.
  • Humboldt Falls Track: If you’re looking for a very short jaunt into the wilderness, the Humboldt Falls Track is an easy 30 minute stroll. It begins at the end of Hollyford Road and takes you through the rainforest to the impressive Humboldt Falls lookout. To make it a longer trip, explore the Hidden Falls Track extension, which will make the trek 4-6 hours.

Boating in Fiordland

The best way to truly experience the lakes and sounds is on a boat, so that you can sail through the narrow corridors of steep glacier-hewn rock and see the many hidden coves.

There are several tour options available and some companies even offer overnight boat trips. If you are looking for something a little more fast-paced, it’s even possible to do a jet boating tour of the region.

Other Activities in Fiordland National Park

  • Scenic Flights: When you fly over Milford Sound it’s easy to see why Rudyard Kipling called it the Eighth Wonder of the World.
  • Lake Manapouri: Surrounded by the Cathedral Mountains, this pretty lake has 33 small islands and countless sandy beaches and coves to explore.
  • Doubtful Sound: The second most famous tourist attraction in New Zealand after Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is actually larger. On a scenic cruise you might see penguins, fur seals or even whales.
  • Milford Road: Take the thrilling drive along the most scenic state highway in New Zealand. Give yourself plenty of time to stop along the way and enjoy the many lookout points and small hikes.
  • Kayaking: What better way to explore this national park than with a kayak? You’ll have the freedom to explore the waterways and lakes at your own pace, discovering beautiful remote spots.

Te Anau – gateway to Fiordland National Park

The town of Te Anau is a common jumping-off point for visitors who are hiking the Milford Track. The town is located on the edges of Lake Te Anau, bordered by lush forests and a backdrop of the Murchison Mountains.

The town is small (population 2000), but there’s plenty to see and do. It offers a wide range of accommodation and local cafes and restaurants.

Getting To And From

It’s possible to fly from Queenstown to Milford South – it’s only a 35-minute flight. Or, you can take the scenic route. The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is one of the most stunning roads in the country. It will take a minimum of four hours, but allow yourself extra time to go slowly and enjoy the views.

You can also reach Fiordland National Park from Te Anau. It’s only a 100km drive, but it’s a spectacular journey and we recommend taking your time for views and photo stops.

The Landscape and Climate

Milford Sound has its own microclimate and the weather can change quite dramatically throughout the year (and even throughout the day!). The summer is peak hiking season and you’ll enjoy dry trails, long days and pleasant weather. Plus, the alpine wildflowers will be in full bloom. (Make sure you book ahead – this is the most popular peak season!)

Winter is much quieter, with fewer crowds and sparkling snow settling on the valleys. The shoulder seasons of Autumn and Spring can also be great times to visit. You’ll still enjoy pleasant weather, but there will be fewer crowds than in the summertime. Autumn is best for wildlife, as it’s when seals, penguins and other creatures will be more active.

Remember, this is one of the wettest regions on earth, so always take a waterproof jacket with you.

Milford Sound Average Temperatures:

  • Summer, December – February. High: 68F, 20C. Low: 48F, 9C.
  • Autumn / Fall, March – May. High: 64F, 18C. Low: 39F, 4C.
  • Winter, June – August. High: 52F, 11C. Low: 34F, 1C.
  • Spring, September – November. High: 61F, 16C. Low: 39F, 4C.

Milford Sound rainfall:

The highest rainfalls months: September, October, November, December with an average of 16-18 rainfall days.

The lowest rainfalls months: February, July, June with an average of 13-15 rainfall days.


Visitors to the park usually stay in Te Anau or Manapouri. Accommodation options include budget hostels, holiday parks, lodges, hotels, motels and stylish boutique B&Bs. There’s also the option for a farm or home stay for a more local experience.

Whenever possible, book your accommodation in advance as this is a popular destination (especially in the summer months).

Local Information

Te Anau has the best supermarket selection, so stock up on food at the Fresh Choice or the Four Square before heading further into the wilderness. Most of the stores are open until late, 7 days a week.

The i-Site Visitor Centre in Te Anau is staffed with friendly local experts who are happy to answer any questions you might have about the region.

Visiting Fiordland National Park with MoaTrek

When we visit Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound, we hit the road from Queenstown bright and early. We travel the stunning Milford Road and then explore the Sound on a small boat cruise. 

We then take a scenic flight back to Queenstown over Fiordland National Park and Lake Wakatipu. It’s one of the most unforgettable days on our tours!

There are a number of MoaTrek tours that include Fiordland National Park:

Kakapo 21 day tour
Kaka 17 day tour
Kea 9 day tour

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